M+R Benchmarks report a 32% increase in online giving in 2020. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project reports a 10.6% increase in giving compared to 2019. Organizations who were ready – or able to get ready, fast – were successful in the midst of the Covid pandemic.
And that’s fantastic news!
But it also makes the question more pressing: how will you keep your new donors? The FEP also reported the new donor retention rate in 2020: 19.2%
Four out of five of your new donors won’t be back.
Unless. Unless you take thoughtful action now to strengthen their loyalty to your organization. What does it take to properly care for donors?
What does it take to properly care for donors?
Not that much, actually. I’m serious. Treat donors as if you care that they exist – beyond their giving. That’s why it’s so sad to see good organizations letting this important part of fundraising slide down the priority scale.
We often call proper donor care “stewardship”. The word “steward” is an old one. Old English old. But it means simply, “guardian”. And that’s good to keep in mind – because when you make stewardship a priority, you are guarding your donor relationships. That means you’re guarding your future fundraising success!
Donor stewardship basics
Of course, relationships don’t always fit into neat boxes. Some donors will look for more engagement – that’s a good sign! Some will need less – but unless they ask to hear from you less often, over-deliver anyway.
Think of stewardship as a plan, a critical part of your fundraising strategy. Be intentional about it. But don’t worry. You can break the process down. Here are four critical steps you should include in your plan.
Thank donors well
Before you even deposit the check or process the card number, have a thank you program in place. I say “program” because saying thank you should never be an afterthought. Or a chore.
Here’s how to work a specific thank you into your process: write the thank you when you write the appeal. Always. Then it will be ready to go the moment the gifts arrive.
Of course, one basic thank you letter a year won’t do the job.
Let’s say you asked donors to support a book drive for local kids. When they respond, you acknowledge their book drive contribution. You tell them what a difference they will make to the kids. Connecting your gratitude to the gift they made helps donors feel seen. And it builds trust.
Your thank you should be human. A good thank you letter is about the donor and her generosity. It’s not an opportunity to brag about your organization. This isn’t a sanitary form letter. It’s definitely not corporate communications. It should read like it was written by a friend. Grateful. Emotional. Mushy, even.
Your goal? Feel a little (or a lot) goose-bumpy as you write it.
Resource: Lisa Sargent’s Thank you letter clinic
Create a special welcome
A donor welcome pack should be part of your stewardship plan. Send it as the first thank you – or a little after the thank you letter.
Your welcome pack doesn’t have to be fancy. Include a cover letter (warm and genuine). Include your most recent newsletter. If you have anything connected to your mission – a small token, or an informational brochure – you can include that, too.
The key is to help donors remember why they gave in the first place. And make them feel part of the family now.
Keep donors informed
Too often, this step is missed. But if you don’t take the time to let donors know just what happened because they gave, you’re missing a great relationship-building opportunity.
Think about it. When you thanked your donor, you told her what her gift would achieve. Now you need to tell (and show) her that her gift did achieve what you said it would.
This is where donor newsletters are gold.
While a thank you tells donors what their gift WILL accomplish, donor newsletters update donors on what their gifts HAVE accomplished. It’s an important way to close the loop for donors. To make them feel that their gift mattered. That they matter.
Newsletters can be fancy or quite simple. But let me urge you to use mail. While digital newsletters have their place – and do work for some organizations (especially video newsletters) – holding something in your hands still creates an impression a screen can’t.
A basic newsletter can be created on two sides of an 11 x 17 piece of paper. Fold it in half, then in thirds, and it fits nicely in a #10 envelope.
Too much for your small shop? Create a “newsy letter” on one piece of paper.
Design is great. But don’t let it stop you from communicating.
What to include? Short articles showing the donor what they helped accomplish. Remember those books you asked for? Tell (your words) and show (with a photo) donors what happened.
Don’t be afraid to include a return envelope and a reply form. You may find (as I did, years ago) that donors respond to newsletters as well as they do to appeals.
Resource: Profitable donor newsletters
Get to know your donors
If you have more than a handful of donors, you won’t be able to get to know them all personally. But you do want to know more, don’t you? And they probably want to feel like you know who they are.
Every bit of information you can gather will help you be more effective in your fundraising. Of course, a good donor management system is key.
But consider a donor survey.
There are some good examples of donor surveys here and here. But the key is to ask a few key questions. Make it easy enough to answer. And be sure that like every donor communication, it’s warm, personal – and grateful. (No, you really can’t say thank you enough.)
Let them know why you want their opinion. Then ask what they think about your organization’s work. About how well you communicate with them. About how much your mission matters to them. Here’s a link to a simple one I did years ago.
Resource: The ultimate guide to donor surveys
Ask for their help – again
Yes! Asking is part of stewardship!
If what your organization does is important, of course you want to provide opportunities for people to help. A well-done appeal helps donors connect to their most generous selves. And that feels good.
Because giving does feel good. And donors deserve the chance to feel good – about themselves and about what they’re accomplishing through your organization.
Use the information you gathered with your survey if you can. But always appeal to what you already know about them: Because they’re donors, they are generous, kind and caring people.
Resource: How to build a better appeal
Kick it up a notch
While all of the above steps should be part of your stewardship program, don’t stop there! You can do more to bring your donors closer to your mission. And often, these extra touches take little time, effort, or money.
Here are some ideas:
A just thanks letter
This letter is not connected to a recent gift. It’s just a quick note, out of the blue, to let donors know they’re appreciated. Because it’s not in response to a particular gift, there’s no transaction here – it’s all relationship.
A casual donors-only event
Depending on how many donors you have, you might need to isolate a particular group. (Monthly donors, for instance.) But this does not have to be a fancy affair. Wine and cheese, or coffee and dessert work fine. The key here is to support donor relationships – with each other. You’re building community!
A thank you phone call
This can work well for first-time donors. But there’s no reason not to call someone who made a special gift, or who increased their giving. Ask questions, be interested. And take notes!
A thank you video
A personalized thank you video is a great alternative to a letter or phone call. Or perhaps, a great compliment. Send a follow-up video thanking your donor for the call. Share a powerful testimonial to really drive home the donor’s impact. What if your donor ignores your call? Send a follow-up video introducing yourself and mention you just called. Video is a great way to introduce yourself and start the relationship on your donor’s time.
Fundraising is relationship-building
And you would be wise to spend at least as much energy on developing relationships as on attracting donors. Many first gifts will be only gifts. But you are not powerless! Focus on good stewardship and you will keep more of your donors around. And a broad base of individual donors is the best, most flexible backbone for your fundraising program!